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The Historic Relevance of ‘Pouring One Out’ & Other Traditions

Liquor and spirits have long since been associated with many traditions. It’s the human condition to associate experiences with the food and beverages we consume. And because certain liquors, malts, and cocktails represent so much of what we celebrate, it only makes sense that we develop and perpetuate traditions and activities associated with our favorite brews.

Which brings us to one tradition that resonates almost on a spiritual level. Pouring one out is a practice known worldwide, symbolizing a host of different values. You’ve more than likely poured one out for a lost loved one or in celebration of someone’s momentous occasion. Today, we’ll dive into the historic relevance behind pouring one out, along with other historical traditions inspiring the ritual and involving spirits and drinks we love.

Tupac, Peele & Key Made Pouring One Out Really Popular

You might remember Tupac’s 1994 track, “Pour Out a Little Liquor,” and popular song lyrics, “pouring one out for my homies.” In 1999, the movie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me also made pouring one out popular when Dr. Evil poured one out for his beloved homies. More recently, Key and Peele had a more nuanced mention of the “pourin’ one out for my homies” homage. And even going back to 1991, in John Singleton’s popular film, Boyz in the Hood, Doughboy poured some malt liquor onto the ground, too. In each of these iconic scenarios, the gesture is meant to be symbolic, representing a sip to a fallen comrade or friend who was meant to be in that moment. 

And those moments in pop culture resonate with most of us, having shared in a pouring one out ceremony or commemoration a time or two. But what does it mean? Where did this practice come from originally? And what’s the historical relevance behind this bizarre practice? 

The urban dictionary says it refers to the act of pouring liquid, usually alcoholic, on the ground as a sign of reverence. And it says, in most cases, a 40-ounce bottle of brew is the beverage of choice. Yes, it has sentimental meaning to those practicing it. But when you think about it, pouring out your favorite drink doesn’t sound all that practical, right? And there has to be more to it than just dumping out a 40, right?

What It Really Means to ‘Pour One Out’

While it is a widely known practice, pouring one out does mean different things in various cultures. The ceremony itself, or the act of pouring one out, is more formally referred to as “making a libation.” Most people just use “libation” as a fancy word for drink. But its historical roots go way back and represent so much more. And depending on which historical resources you read, you’ll find different origins and meanings behind the libation practice. 

It’s believed that the original definition of pouring one out meant to pour out a bit of your drink as an offering to a deity. And you’ll find that while today’s pop culture dictates pouring one out means sharing a drink with a recently passed loved one, the more historical past was all about homage to the celestial rulers of the day.

FUN FACT: The act of pouring one out goes back centuries. But ancient cultures wouldn’t always use alcohol. Instead, some cultures poured out water or grains of rice in honor of their recently deceased or as offerings to their gods. While the Americanized versions of libations typically include liquor, there are still cultures today that use other liquids in the practice.

The Greeks & Romans Did It

As much as we’d love to give Tupac credit for this tradition, pouring one out is much, much older than the rap of the 90s. The ancient Greeks, who were deeply devoted to their teams of gods, were practicing the original libation ceremonies eons before. They called them “choai” libation rituals, whereby an entire vessel of liquid would be poured out slowly in honor of their fallen war heroes and gods. They also practiced “spondai” libation rituals, in which only a precisely measured amount of liquid would be poured out in honor.

In ancient Greece, either libation ritual would mostly consist of wine, although sometimes other alcohol varieties were substituted. And taking their rituals further, the Greeks would also incorporate stone carvings to document their ceremonies. This wasn’t just a toast to a loved one like we typically see today. These were full-on occasions involving crowds, flowing fluids, and prayers.

The Romans were all about libations, too. But they added a twist. The Romans actually installed tubes that drained into the graves of their loved ones. This would allow grieving friends and family to pour one out and dispense liquor directly into the tombs and burial spots. And this wasn’t just a practice for the wealthy. Even lower social ranks and classes of citizens had tubes installed expressly for libations.

Biblical References to ‘Pouring One Out’

You can even find references of pouring one out throughout the bible. The Old Testament references the practice directly in Genesis 35:14. There, it reads, “He poured out a drink offering on it,” referring to Jacob, who had set up a pillar where he had spoken to God and began engaging in libation to honor Him. It seems that even in biblical times, pouring one out was highly revered as an honorable ritual.

The Egyptians Did It Too

Despite the rituals in ancient Greece, the Greeks still weren’t the first to pour one out. In fact, the Egyptians were reported to have been the originators of the libation ritual. In ancient Egypt, people would prefer to use water, though, since water symbolized “life-giving” fluid, as did the nearby Nile River. 

According to historical records and reporting, the Egyptians would substitute other liquids in place of water sometimes. They would honor their dead by pouring one out using honey, sometimes milk, and other types of alcoholic drinks. Whatever they happened to be consuming at the time would suffice. And a little dribble would be titled out of their chalices to honor their deceased as well as their deities. Adding to the ritual, once their drinking vessel had been emptied, the Egyptians would routinely break them by slamming them into the ground. 

Pouring one out is even mentioned in the Egyptian book of the dead, originally created to help guide loved ones through the afterlife. The passage reads, “Pour libation for your father and mother,” and goes on to say doing this for your parents ensures your children will do it for you.

FUN FACT: It’s believed pouring one out even predates the Egyptians, going back as far as early Mesopotamia, where beer, wine, milk, water, and oil were used to honor the gods. There were even shrines erected, with altars specific for pouring and placing vessels.

Songs That Made Pouring One Out More Popular

Stepping back into the 21st century, libations have continued through today’s cultures and celebratory practices. And the act of pouring one out has been memorialized across pop culture, in movies, and in music. Maybe you recognize a few of these hit songs, all celebrating the once-ancient ritual of honoring passed loved ones, usually with alcohol.

  • “Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys
  • “The Message” by the legendary Dr. Dre
  • “This is for My Homies” by the talented Juelz Santana
  • “Life Changes” by the iconic Wu-Tang Clan
  • “Life Goes On” by the beloved 2Pac

How to Properly ‘Pour One Out’

Now that you officially know how pouring one out originated, you might be wondering how to properly honor the ritual today if you plan to host one. If you have someone in mind you’d like to honor, you can follow these steps to put together a proper libation in line with the historic sentiments of the Egyptians and ancient Greeks. Today, though, they’re called pour out parties.

1. Planning the Libation

Connect with friends and family who might want to participate in celebrating the life of someone dear. But it doesn’t have to be all about one person or the recently deceased, for that matter. In fact, today’s libation practices are perfectly acceptable methods of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or other milestone life occasions. The act itself is meant to celebrate life. So, don’t be afraid to organize a libation to honor the living.

2. Choosing Your Venue

If you are planning to honor someone who’s passed, you might plan to organize friends somewhere special to that person. It could be a favorite park, restaurant, pastime venue, or even at the place of final rest. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re somewhere special or just honoring someone where you are. The sentiment carries meaning wherever you decide to have the pouring one out celebration.

3. Everyone Participating Must Have a Drink

There are no hard-fast rules about what drinks need to be used. Some insist on expensive spirits or rare varieties, symbolizing the gift of a special sip. The only real rule is that everyone participating must have something in hand to pour out when the time comes. So, anything will do, including water, soda, or your favorite spirits. But if your honored guest has a favorite drink, it’s common for those celebrating to pour one out using that favorite beverage.

4. Honoring the Guest of Honor

It’s customary that when you pour one out, you say a few words in honor of your celebrated guest. But remember not to put too much pressure on yourself. This doesn’t have to be a wedding-style, best-man speech. Most people offer a few brief words or sentiments. And in some libation ceremonies, it’s best to say nothing at all to honor a fallen friend.

5. Pouring One Out

When it comes time to pour one out, you and your gathered guests will each pour a little from your chosen beverages. It’s not necessary to empty your drink. And pouring one person at a time or simultaneously as a group is also acceptable. The gesture itself has meaning, regardless of how you follow through with it.

Here’s the other thing to consider when planning a pour out party. The act of pouring one out can be incredibly personal, emotional, and intimate. For some, visiting a gravesite alone is all the planning needed to share a sip with a lost friend or loved one. So, whatever libation ceremonies mean to you, make it yours to honor how you feel it should be done.

Next time you hear one of those iconic songs, or maybe find yourself with friends toasting and pouring one out, you’ll know the deeper history behind the tradition. You might even be inspired to plan and celebrate with a libation ritual. Now you know how, where, and why. And don’t forget, when you’re ready to start exploring local distilleries or finding rare spirits to sample for use in your libation celebrations of life, let Distillery Nearby be your guide!

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